October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pink ribbons are everywhere, from lapels and teddy bears, to cleaning products and perfume. So much levity and cheeriness for a disease that is deadly serious. So much hypocrisy when these ribbons may adorn items containing carcinogens.
When I think about breast cancer, I think about my mother, who died of it at the age of 50. I think of my own diagnosis 22 years later. And I think of the women I encountered in the waiting room during treatments, and the many I’ve spoken to since, who, unlike me, had no genetic risk factors. Yet, just like me, they were diagnosed with the disease at a relatively early age.
Why them? For that matter, why me? Why are so many of us being stricken?
Some of the answers can be found in a small, green paperback that my father presented to me a few months after my mother died.
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was published fifty years ago last month and is often credited with igniting the environmental movement. Carson addressed her widely-read book to the general public. It clearly explains how man-made chemicals used to kill insects, weeds, rodents, and other such pests can travel up the food chain and impact human health.
“Can anyone believe it is possible to lay down such a barrage of poisons on the surface of the earth without making it unfit for all life?”
She also sounded the alarm back then for how these poisons can change us on a cellular level:
“Some would-be architects of our future look toward a time when it will be possible to alter the human germ plasm by design. But we may easily be doing so now by inadvertence, for many chemicals, like radiation, bring about gene mutations. It is ironic to think that man might determine his own future by something so seemingly trivial as the choice of an insect spray.”
Carson wrote these words in the midst of her own battle with metastatic breast cancer. She died two years after Silent Spring was published. Her wise and prescient voice was silenced, just like the spring she envisioned in her book’s opening pages.
So while I applaud organizations that use pink ribbons to raise money for breast cancer research, I also agree with my fellow blogger, Elisa Batista, who says,
“It will be a good day when pink mixes with green.”
To hasten that day, we must honor Rachel Carson’s legacy by educating others about the environmental causes of breast cancer. For the sake of our daughters and our sons (yes, men get breast cancer too), we must take action now.
And we shouldn’t rest until we pin the last pink ribbon on the lapel of the last corporate polluter, and send them packing.